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Imma Shalom

IMMA SHALOM (late first and early second century C.E.), wife of *Eliezer b. Hyrcanus, and according to the aggadic tradition of the Babylonian Talmud, also the sister of Rabban *Gamaliel of Jabneh. The Tosefta (Nid. 6:8) mentions R. Eliezer's wife in passing, though not by name. The earliest and best attested tradition which mentions Imma Shalom by name is found in the Mekhilta de-Millu'im, an addition to the Sifra on Leviticus, apparently from the school of R. Ishmael (Epstein, ITL 641). There (Sifra, ed. Weiss 45c, Vatican 66, ed. Finkelstein, 194–195) it is told concerning one of R. Eliezer's students that "he once made a halakhic decision in the presence of R. Eliezer his master. R. Eliezer said to Imma Shalom his wife: 'I would be surprised if he lives out the week.' The student died before the week was out. His students asked him: 'Our master, are you a prophet?' He replied: 'Neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet am I. Rather I have a tradition from my teachers that any student who makes a halakhic decision in the presence of his master is liable to die'." This tradition is quoted as a baraita in the Jerusalem Talmud (Shev 6:1 36c), in the classic aggadic Midrashim (Lev. R. 20:6; PdRK 26: Tanḥ, Aḥre Mot 6), and in the Babylonian Talmud (Er. 63a).

The Babylonian Talmud tells three more aggadot about Imma Shalom. The first is a continuation of the Babylonian Talmud's famous story about the excommunication of R. Eliezer at the hands of Rabban Gamaliel and his colleagues. By way of introduction, the Babylonian Talmud informs us (BM 59b) that Imma Shalom was not only R. Eliezer's wife but also Rabban Gamaliel's sister. Narrative embellishments of this sort are very common in the aggadot of the Babylonian Talmud and should not be taken as reflecting ancient historical information. The Talmud relates that after Eliezer's excommunication Imma Shalom did not permit her husband to prostrate himself in the supplications after the *Amidah (to prevent him praying for his humiliation and so bring punishment upon his excommunicators). On one occasion she found her husband prostrating himself, and exclaimed: "You have killed my brother!" And indeed they immediately blew the shofar to proclaim the death of the nasi Gamaliel. When Eliezer asked how she knew this, she replied: "I have a tradition from my paternal grandfather's house; 'all gates are locked except the gate of wounded feelings.'" Clearly, the description of Imma Shalom's almost prophetic ability to predict the future on the basis of a tradition which she received from her grandfather (Rabban Gamaliel I) echoes the narrative line of the original tannaitic story, except that now Imma Shalom takes on the role of prophet, and her husband the role of the confused observer.

The second aggadah (Shab. 116a–b) tells of a certain "philosopher" in Imma Shalom's vicinity, who served as a judge and who had the reputation of not accepting bribes. She and her brother contrived a lawsuit, ostensibly in connection with the division of their patrimony, inherited from their father, Rabban Simeon b. Gamaliel I, for the purpose of embarrassing this judge, and showing up his true character. Imma Shalom sent him a golden lamp before submitting the case to him. He ruled that the patrimony should be divided equally. Gamaliel said to him: "In our Torah it says that where there is a son the daughter does not inherit," to which he retorted: "Since the day you were exiled from your land, the law of Moses has been superseded by a new law" (Mss. read "the law of the Evangelium"), "and there it states that a son and daughter inherit equally." The next day Gamaliel sent him a Libyan ass. When they subsequently came before him he said to them: "I have looked at the continuation of the Evangelium and it states there: 'I did not come to subtract from the law of Moses but [so in the Mss.] to add to it,' and there it states that the daughter does not inherit where there is a son." Imma Shalom exclaimed: "Let thy light shine forth like a lamp"; whereupon Gamaliel retorted: "An ass came and kicked over the lamp."

The third aggadah relates that Imma Shalom and Eliezer had very beautiful children (Ned. 20b). When asked the reason for this, she attributed this to her husband's great modesty in their marital relations, which she described in some detail. This tradition was included in the collections Kallah (1:1) and Kallah Rabbati (1:15).


Y, Gilat, R. Eliezer ben Hyrcanus, A Scholar Outcast (1984), 417, 428, 484; T. Ilan, in: AJS Review, 22:1 (1997), 11–16.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.